In this absorbing history of the first two decades of the twentieth century, David Traxel paints a vivid picture of a transformative period in the United States, when many remarkable individuals fought to decide which path the country would follow. Victorian restraint was being cast aside by men and women testing social conventions and sexual mores, dancing to dangerous “jazz” music, and expressing themselves through revolutionary forms of art.
Traxel traces how these modern ideas were also related to a powerful progressive reform movement that hoped to end the social evils that had accompanied unrestrained industrialization, and he examines the impact of huge waves of European immigration on both the American economy and its social fabric. The struggles to end child labor, win votes for women, rid cities of corrupt political machines, improve public health and education, and prohibit alcohol brought forth a passionate response from millions of Americans who desired both a more efficient and a more compassionate society. Greenwich Village bohemians including Jack Reed, Eugene O’Neill, and Louise Bryant; politicians such as Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson; social reformers Margaret Sanger and “Mother” Jones; journalists William Allen White and Lincoln Steffens; and industrialist Henry Ford come alive in these pages. They were Democrats and Republicans, progressives and Socialists, as well as radicals such as the Industrial Workers of the World and anarchists such as Emma Goldman.
Combining lively anecdote with historical scholarship, Traxel shows how American crusading continued through World War I, though now focused on “making the world safe for democracy.” But by the time the doughboys returned the public was tired of what had come to seem empty rhetoric and unattainable goals. By 1920 the Progressive Era was over, though its laws and effects have lived on. This portrait of early twentieth-century America reveals important qualities of our national character that endure to this day.
Crusader Nation: The United States in Peace and the Great War, 1898-1920